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#Horrific_Crimes : 'Pure Evil' dad sentenced to life for killing of six years old daughter

Ben Butler has been sentenced to life in prison and told he may never be released following the “horrific” murder of his six-year-old daughter Ellie.

Ben Butler and his daughter Ellie. Photograph: David Crump/Rex/Shutterstock
Mr Justice Wilkie said Butler must serve a minimum of 23 years, adding: “You are very far from being a good parent; you are a self-absorbed, ill-tempered, violent, domineering man.”

He told the Old Bailey in London that Butler had left his dead daughter on the floor “like a prop in a stage scene” and that his 999 call two hours after her death amounted to deceit on a “breathtaking” level.

Butler, 36, was convicted on Tuesday of murdering Ellie, who was found dead in October 2013 in the family home in Sutton, south-west London. She had sustained fatal injuries, similar to those inflicted in a high-speed car crash, just 11 months after Butler had convinced a judge to return her to his care. Throughout the trial Butler had denied responsibility for Ellie’s death.

Jennie Gray, the girl’s mother and Butler’s partner, was jailed for 42 months for child cruelty as well as her part in covering up the murder. The 36-year-old was convicted of the first charge on Tuesday having earlier pleading guilty to covering up her daughter’s death and perverting the course of justice to “save the skin” of her violent and aggressive partner. 
Jennie Gray, the girl’s mother and Butler’s partner, 
Ellie was killed by Butler in what the prosecution described as a “truly disturbing” case.

Butler told jurors he had found Ellie unconscious in her bedroom at about 12.45pm on 28 October 2013, but that he had gone into shock and needed to lie on the floor to recover. He summoned his on-off girlfriend Gray home from work and she agreed not to phone 999 because, they claimed, they feared they would be blamed because of his 2007 conviction, later overturned, for assaulting Ellie as a seven-week-old.

Over a 10-week trial, jurors heard how the couple’s “toxic and dysfunctional” relationship had descended into extreme verbal, and probably physical, abuse before culminating in the brutal murder of Ellie.

Her parents then staged an elaborate cover-up, putting potentially contaminated clothes in the wash and dumping Gray’s torn-up diary, which exposed the “toxic” atmosphere in the house and their abusive relationship. Butler took the dog for a walk, trying to appear normal and smiling at neighbours, while Gray texted her employers to say she was too ill to work.

It can now be reported for the first time that as part of their “cynical” cover-up, the couple set up a younger sibling who was in the house at the time of the murder to “discover” Ellie’s body before calling an ambulance.

In a unanimous decision, the jurors sided with the prosecution, who said Butler “consistently teetered on the edge of a violent loss of temper” and had killed Ellie in a fit of rage when minding her alone at home.

Butler, who is unemployed, mumbled angrily as the verdicts were returned. Gray said: “Big mistake, big mistake, big mistake.”

Butler had been jailed for 19 months for assaulting Ellie in 2007, but the conviction was overturned in 2010 following a judge’s assessment of new scientific research on shaken baby syndrome.

In a reverse of past tragedies, such as the death of Baby P, the local authority, the London borough of Sutton, fought all the way to the high court to stop Ellie being returned to Butler and Gray despite his quashed conviction.

But Ellie was ultimately returned following a ruling in November 2012, when Mrs Justice Hogg declared Butler “exonerated” and said it was “a joy” to see such a “happy ending”. She retired six days before the murder trial began, seven months earlier than expected.

Butler’s efforts to regain custody of Ellie had included a press campaign by the former PR manager Max Clifford and was successful in spite of warnings from the child’s grandfather and the local council.

Neal Gray, 70, and his wife, Linda, who had cared for Ellie since she was 10 weeks old, spent all of their £70,000 savings fighting Butler in the courts. It can be reported for the first time that Neal Gray warned Hogg in 2012 that she would have “blood on her hands” if she returned Ellie to her father.

“My words have come true,” Gray said in an exclusive interview with the Guardian during the trial. Ellie Butler’s grandfather Neal Gray: ‘It’s hard to accept’

A serious case review, commissioned by the Local Safeguarding Children Board, into Ellie’s death found that “despite a significant range of concerns and worrying incidents”, Hogg’s ruling, “combined with the parents’ refusal of any voluntary engagement with support services, meant no intervention that might have made a difference was possible”.

It said Hogg “went much further” than the court of appeal, which had quashed Butler’s conviction for assaulting his daughter at seven weeks old and ruled that her injuries were “purely accidental”.

“Ben Butler’s exoneration and the judge’s statement about him being a victim of a miscarriage of justice had the effect of handing all the power to the parents,” the review said. School, medical and social workers were “effectively prevented” from having a role in Ellie’s welfare.

Neal Gray said Tuesday’s verdicts were fantastic news.

“The tragedy is that none of this will bring our beloved granddaughter Ellie back to us.”

His wife died on the first day of the murder trial and Neal Gray was understood to be too ill to give evidence. But a joint statement written before the trial recorded their pain at losing Ellie: “Our lives have changed so dramatically due to the impact and shock and horror of this event that we struggle every day to deal with the reality of the death of our dear granddaughter Ellie. She was our shining light.

“Ellie was a very beautiful, bubbly and intelligent little girl who always had a smile on her face, and even at such a young age she was nobody’s fool. She was our life and she gave so much pleasure to us and our family too; how we all miss her.”

The couple did not directly refer to their daughter or Butler but said: “We did not realise that some people could be so wicked in life.”

Butler was also sentenced on Tuesday to five years for child cruelty in relation to a series of untreated injuries Ellie sustained in the weeks before her death, including a broken shoulder.

The judge told Gray that her dependence on Butler was so deep that she was prepared to do anything for him, including participating in the “grotesque charade” of a 999 call two hours after Ellie was murdered.

It emerged during the sentencing hearing that the family rift caused by Ellie’s death was so profound that Gray was not told of her mother’s death.

In an interview with the Guardian, her father said: “It is hard to accept that your offspring has helped cover up the murder of her own child. It’s indescribable. It’s the most heinous crime in the world.

“We’ve had no contact with the mother or the father since the incident and we do not ever want any more contact ever again,” said Gray speaking for himself and his two other children.

“I haven’t even told them that my wife had died and that was my wife’s dying wish,” he said. “She’s not our family any more, Jennie.”

Social workers failed to respond to six phone calls from Ellie’s grandparents expressing concern about her safety and welfare after she was returned to her parents, and Neal Gray is calling for a full and independent public inquiry into what went wrong.

During Services For Children’s (S4C) assessment of Ellie after the 2012 ruling it was made clear to the social workers by both Ellie and her grandparents that the girl did not want to return to her parents.

“When they came round she used to hide under the table or behind the curtains,” Neal Gray said. “She started bed wetting, which she had never done before, and told us she was having nightmares that they would come and take her away from us and back to her parents while she was sleeping.”

When Ellie asked her grandparents if she could speak to the judge, the independent social workers said this was not necessary.

On 28 October 2012, Ellie had a visit with her parents. When she returned she had a large bruise on her forehead. Her grandparents reported the bruise to both the GP and Ellie’s school.

On 5 May 2013 the grandparents met Ellie, her sibling and their parents at a local pub. Ellie’s face was painted but Neal Gray said he could see bruising underneath, as well as various other bruises and scratches on Ellie’s body. When he questioned Butler about it, he started shouting.

In the last 11 months of her life, Ellie’s grandparents were denied contact with her more than 20 times. On six occasions they left messages with S4C expressing concern about Ellie.
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